A Poem by William McKendree Carleton


We got here safe – my worthy wife and me –
And took a tent here in the woods contigious to the sea;
We’ve harvested such means of grace as growed within our reach –
We’ve been to several meetings here, and heard the Bishop preach;
And everything went easy like until we took a whim –
My wife and I – one breezy day, to take an ocean swim.

We shouldn’t have ventured on’t, I think, if Sister Sunnyhopes
Hadn’t urged us over and again, and said she knew “the ropes,”
And told how soothing it would be “in ocean rills to lave,”
And “sport within the bounding surf,” and “ride the crested wave;”
And so we went along with her – my timid wife and me –
Two inland noodles, for our first acquaintance with the sea.

They put me in a work-day rig, as usually is done –
A wampus and short overalls all sewed up into one.
I had to pull and tug and shrink to make the thing go ’round
(You are aware my peaceful weight will crowd three hundred pound).
They took my wig and laid it up – to keep it dry, they said –
And strapped a straw-stack of a hat on my devoted head.

They put my wife into a frock too short by full a third:
‘Twas somewhat in the Bloomer style – I told her ’twas absurd!
You know she’s rather long and slim – somewhat my opposite –
And clothes that was not made for her is likely not to fit;
But as we was we vent’red in – my timid wife and me –
And formed our first acquaintance with the inconsistent sea.

City Ballads,

Miss Sunnyhopes she waded out a-looking nice and sweet
(She’d had her dress made to the store, and trimmed from head to feet);
And I went next, and grabbed their rope just as she told me to,
And Wife came third, a-looking scared, scarce knowing what to do.
Then Sister Sunnyhopes a smile of virgin sweetness gave,
And said, “Now watch your chance, and jump – here comes a lovely wave!”

I must have jumped, I rather think, the wrong time of the moon;
At any rate the “lovely wave” occurred to me too soon!
It took me sudden, with a rude and unexpected shock;
I’d rather meet the stoutest pair of horns in all my flock!
And then to top the circus out, and make the scene more fine,
I tried to kick this “lovely wave,” and let right go the line.


On county fairs and ‘lection days, in walking through a crowd,
I’m rather firm to jostle ‘gainst – perhaps it makes me proud;
But if it does, that wave just preached how sureness never pays,
And seemed to say, “How small is man, no odds how much he weighs!”
It kicked and cuffed me all about, in spite of right or law,
With all the qualities they give an average mother-in-law!

And then it set me on the bank, quite thankful for my life,
And looking ’round I give a gaze to find my faithful wife;
But she had kind o’ cut this wave with all the edge she had,
And stood a-looking ’round for me, uncommon moist and sad;
While Sister Sunnyhopes with smiles was looking sweet and gay,
A-floating on her dainty back some several rods away!

City Ballads,

She looked so newish pretty there – (she knowed it, too, the elf!) –
The crowd was all admiring her, and so was I myself;
And while I once more grasped the line, beside my wife of truth,
My eyes would rove to Sister S. – her beauty and her youth;
When all at once a brindle wave, uncommon broad and deep,
Came thrashing down on Wife and me, and flopped us in a heap!

City Ballads,

City Ballads,

Heels over head – all in a bunch – my wife across of me,
And I on some misguided folks who happened there to be,
My hat untied and floated off, and left my bald head bare –
When I got out, if I’d have spoke, ‘twould warmed up all the air!
We drank ’bout two-thirds of the sea – my gasping wife and I –
While Sister S. still floated soft, a-gazing at the sky!


We voted that we’d had enough, and got right out the way
Before another wave arrived, and bid the sea good-day.
We looked as like two drownded rats as ever such was called,
With one of them a dumbed old fool and most completely bald.
But, like a woman true she says – my shivering wife to me –
“We will not mind; there’s others here looks just as bad as we.”

Now, Sister Sunnyhopes, by’m-by, came back into our tent,
As sleek or sleeker than before, and asked us “When we went?”
Said I, “My dear good Sister S., please do not now pretend
You did not see our voyage through, and mark its doleful end.
If you would play the mermaid fair, why such I’d have you be;
But we’re too old to take that part – my faithful wife and me;

“Some folks may be who ocean waves are fitted to command,
But we’ve concluded we was built expressly for the land.
And when I want amusement for an uncompleted day,
I guess I’ll go and take it in some good old-fashioned way;
And will not stand upon my head ‘fore all the folks that’s there,
And wildly wave my dumbed old feet in all the neighboring air!”